The current controversy began with Supreme Court lawyer and Prashant Bhushan's interview to Tehelka where he stated inter alia:
“In my view, out of the last 16 to 17 Chief Justices, half have been corrupt. I can’t prove this, though we had evidence against Punchhi, Anand, and Sabharwal on the basis of which we sought their impeachment”.
He was also asked: Are there other ways in which judicial corruption manifests itself? To which he had replied:
There are so many. There is Justice Kapadia who decided on the Niyamgiri mining lease case in Orissa. He said Vedanta can’t be given the lease because it’s been blacklisted by the Norwegian government; but its subsidiary company Sterlite can get the lease because it is a publicly listed company. Justice Kapadia said it’s publicly listed because he had shares in it and yet he passed an order in favour of Sterlite! There is a law against judges hearing cases where there is a conflict of interest, but they just bypass it and you can’t complain because that would be contempt.
A contempt petition was filed against Mr Prashant Bhushan by Shri Harish Salve in his capacity as Amicus Curiae.
Mr Prashant Bhushan responded by way of an affidavit explaining, contextualising and elaborating his impugned remarks in the interview above.
He also argued that Mr. Harish Salve who has filed this contempt application, styling himself as Amicus Curiae, had a conflict of interest in the matter himself.
The court however not only decided to pursue the matter, but also persist with Mr. Salve as Amicus and vide its order dated 14/7/10 went on to say:
“the issues involved in these proceedings have far greater ramifications and impact on the administration of justice and the justice delivery system and the credibility of the Supreme Court in the eyes of the general public than what was under consideration in either Duda’s case or Bal Thakeray’s case.”
Then, Mr Shanti Bhushan, Mr Prashant Bhushan's father, former law minister, eminent lawyer, senior advocate and one of the patrons of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability (CJAR) filed an affidavit which we carried recently, affirming his son's claim about corruption among CJIs:
in the applicant’s opinion, eight were definitely corrupt, six were definitely honest and about the remaining two, a definite opinion cannot be expressed whether they were honest or corrupt.
He also enclosed "signed lists identifying these eight, six and two Chief Justices of India" in a sealed cover along with his affidavit.
Mr Shanti Bhushan went on to say:
...since the applicant is publicly stating that out of the last sixteen Chief Justices of India, eight of them were definitely corrupt, the applicant also needs to be added as a respondent to this contempt petition so that he is also suitably punished for this contempt. The applicant would consider it a great honour to spend time in jail for making an effort to get for the people of India an honest and clean judiciary.
That the applicant also submits that since the questions arising in this case affects the judiciary as a whole, the petition needs to be decided by the entire court and not merely by three judges handpicked by a Chief Justice.
Mr Prashant Bhushan has also filed a supplementary affidavit before the Supreme Court:
to place on record some facts, material and evidence which I was aware of when I made the statement about the former Chief Justices, so as to dispel any impression that my statements were baseless or made with reckless disregard to the truth
Mr Bhushan once again reiterates that in his statement about half of the last 16-17 Chief Justices being corrupt, he "certainly did not intend to paint the entire judiciary or the entire Supreme Court with the same brush" and that he believes
that the Supreme Court has had and continues to have many outstanding judges and Chief Justices, due to whose tireless efforts we have been able to hold on to some of our cherished fundamental rights and continue to be regarded as a nation governed by the rule of law. It is because of them that people in this country still turn to the Courts in the hope of getting justice.
With this background, considering Mr Bhushan's affidavit to be in public interest, as furthering the debate on judicial accountability, we reproduce it below in full as it goes on to place on record
some of the evidence "regarding the corruption of several of the former Chief Justices".
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